Got Fear?

Saturday I pulled into a pet-store parking lot behind a woman in a tiny, yellow, Korean subcompact. Emblazoned on the back window was “Got Valor? Helaman Academy. LDS-Based Education, ” along with the school’s website address: http://www.helamanacademy.com.

Perusing the web site, one finds that this school’s faculty and administration consists of one Ada Dittli, who believes that her approach to education is her “way of building Zion.” (I think it may have been Sister Dittli I saw in the parking lot of the pet store.)

Frankly, these kinds of “schools” scare me. Kids are extremely unlikely to get a realistic view of US history when “history is approached from a providential view with emphasis on God’s preparation of this continent for the restoration of the Gospel. We study the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as divinely inspired documents and explore their principles.” History is messy, and the Constitution was born of competing political and economic interests, not of answered prayer. Maybe some people really believe that it was inspired of God that the Constitution uphold slavery in Article 1, Section 2, and explicitly state that fugitive slaves must be delivered back to their owners. Of course, these are probably the same folks who believe that the LDS denial of priesthood to people of black African descent was not “racist.” And it goes without saying that viewing the US Constitution’s primary purpose as “preparation of this continent for the restoration of the Gospel” is ignoring the background leading up to the Constitutional Convention, the reasons for its compromises and eventual ratification, and its implementation.

It’s also a little scary that the students study only from the scriptures and “Noah Webster’s original 1828 dictionary.” Seems just a tad limiting to me. I suppose I can understand the desire to “use the Word of God as the foundation for all study,” but why arbitrarily choose Webster’s original dictionary? Apparently, some people consider Webster’s dictionary ” the essential tool of education for Christians” because “Webster used the Bible as the foundation for his definitions.” Such people believe that “the English language has changed again and again and in many instances has become corrupt.” But, never fear, good Christians, Webster’s “American Dictionary of the English Language is based upon God’s written word.”

This is, to me, fundamentalism taken to an extreme. As Terry Eagleton has written, “Fundamentalists are those who believe that our linguistic currency is trustworthy only if it is backed by the gold standard of the Word of Words. They see God as copperfastening human meaning. Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate.” It is precisely this fear of change and ambiguity that seems to motivate people not only to insist on a particular translation (usually the 1611 King James Version) but also to fixate on a particular edition of an American dictionary to ward off the “secularization of our modern English language.”

The cold, hard truth is this: language is neither religious nor secular, and it is fluid and constantly changing. Attempting to find a time and place at which language is pure (and at which point a dictionary is the “key to the meaning of words”) is as futile and silly as taking a bucket of water from the Pacific Ocean and claiming that it alone represents the “true” ocean, and everything thereafter has become corrupted.

Again, what seems to motivate such folks isn’t truth or revelation but fear. So, to answer Sister Dittli’s question: no, there’s no valor in being afraid of language and history.

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2 Responses to Got Fear?

  1. Diane Sower says:

    Kudos. Something we should all be able to relate to.

  2. Ada Dittli? Are you sure you didn’t make this up?
    Never mind. Anything this crazy in Utah has to be for real!

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